May 12, 2014

Offset vs. Digital Printing: When Offset is Your Best Option

Example of a Perfect registration in offset pr...

In the world of commercial printing, the two most common printing technologies used in the industry today are Offset and Digital. Both practices come with their advantages and disadvantages and in this article we will take a look at when one or the other may best suit your needs. While this post provides a nice primer on the subject, if you have more questions find a local printer in your area (around these parts a place like Modern Litho does the trick) and they can help you make the right decision, and likely not push you towards one over the other for financial purposes.

In the Digital printing process, images are transferred to paper using a process of laser and toner.

In the Offset printing process, images are transferred from a plate to a rubber blanket and finally onto a sheet of paper where ink is applied via a series of rollers.
To decide which is right for your project keep these 3 questions in mind:
1.    How big of a project is it?
2.    How much time do we have?
3.    What will best for our budget?

Advantage of Offset Printing:

•    Printing in large quantities- Despite the initial set-up cost and time, Offset printing is a much more cost efficient process than Digital when printing larger runs, usually this is any project over 500 pieces.
•    Print on varying materials and papers- Digital printing is limited when it comes to the type of material it can be printed on, usually constricted to 18” X 12”. Offset printers however, can print on a much wider variety of sizes, thicknesses, and weights.
•    Higher Quality- Offset printing offers a higher quality print than Digital. Often times with digital printing, colors will be close but not exact and because ink may not be fully absorbed, cracks and fading may appear around edges of images and text. Offset also offers a higher line frequency, compared to the usual 50-65 of digital, Offset printing used on magazines for example can he near 300.
•    Exact Color Matching and Printing-  Along the same lines as the previous point, digital has come a long way in recent years in terms of color quality, however since they cannot print Pantones like Offset printers can, the Colors will not be an exact match and can have slight differences over the course of a run.

Advantages of Digital Printing:

•    Fast turnaround- Offset printing requires a longer setup time per project as well as longer drying time once the pieces have been printed, when time is a factor, Digital may be the way to go.
•    Variable Text Editing- Unlike Offset printing, with Digital individual pieces can be edited fairly quickly and easily, this works well for projects that have changing texts such as names, titles and/or addresses.
•    Cost Effective for Small Projects- For short run jobs(under 500 pieces) digital printing is often times more cost effective than Offset because of its quick and low cost setup time.

How to choose:

As you can see, there will usually never be one service to choose for all projects. Offset is best used with larger projects, that have a longer time table and require a more precise and high quality color palate where Digital printing is best when time is a factor, your print run is smaller and the ability to edit during the process is of importance. The best practice is to keep in mind your timetable, size of project and Budget to help decide which process to choose from.